Ornithologist and Director of the Feather Identification Lab

Ornithologist Dr. Carla Dove sitting and analyzing feathers under a microscope. Shelves and storage drawers are behind her.
Dr. Carla Dove analyzing feathers under a microscope. Smithsonian image 2008-19292.

Dr. Carla Dove directs the Feather Identification Lab at the National Museum of Natural History. Carla grew up in rural Virginia where she developed a love for the outdoors, spending her summers roaming through the woods and wading through mountain streams. Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Wildlife Biology from the University of Montana, she learned the specialized skill of ‘bird skinning’ and focused her studies in Ornithology. After graduating, she returned home to the Blue Ridge Mountains, but then landed a job as a Museum Specialist at the Smithsonian based on her experience in bird specimen preparation. In the Division of Birds, Carla connected with her mentor Roxie Laybourne, the pioneer of Forensic Ornithology, and began studying the microscopic characters of feathers to aid in the identification of birds. Dr. Dove completed her M.S. and Ph.D. at George Mason University while working in the Division of Birds.

Now, as Director of the Feather Identification Lab, Carla leads one of the only laboratories in the world that specializes in the identification of ‘snarge’ (bird ick). The lab processes over 9,000 cases each year and mainly specializes in the identification of birdstrikes (bird/aircraft collisions). The lab is supported by interagency agreements with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and the FAA to identify birds that are hazardous to aviation safety. The skill of feather identification is also applied to law enforcement cases, studies of prey remains, and has been used a time or two in food contamination cases.